RTF UNIMPRESSED WITH INTERISLANDER LEVY

Road Transport Forum (RTF) chief executive Ken Shirley has expressed his members’ displeasure with a pending 15.5% “earthquake levy” to be introduced on commercial vehicles travelling on the Interislander.

Mr Shirley says the levy, which is due to be implemented as from the middle of next month, highlights the “deep seated” issues being faced by Interislander parent company, KiwiRail, which have been “brought to the fore following the damaging earthquakes”.

“The proposed levy is more an ongoing ‘capacity levy’ rather than an ‘earthquake levy’ and the restoration of the Picton to Christchurch direct road and rail routes will not solve the problem,” he says.

“There is a potential for this levy to become permanent once imposed under the guise of an ‘earthquake levy’.”

He says road transport operators are facing resistance from customers when negotiating recovery of this new cost which comes on top of the additional costs stemming from the alternative route connecting Picton with Christchurch and regions further south.

“Fundamentally it is now a different freight task. Many report additional costs of at least 20%.”

However, Mr Shirley emphasises that road transport operators “cannot and should not absorb these additional costs”.

“A greater effort is required to ensure that freight costs are met by the customer and consumer. An awareness and understanding of the problem is always a good starting point.”

STRAIT REBOUNDS, INTERISLANDER STILL IMPACTED

Strait Shipping commercial general manager Ed Menzies says business is now “back to normal” following November’s Kaikoura earthquake, whereas the Interislander is reportedly facing an ongoing downturn.

After an initial dip in passenger bookings following the 7.8-magnitude event, the market quickly returned to its buoyant peak summer season levels with no sign of slowing, says Mr Menzies.

“Meanwhile freight volumes increased significantly in the weeks after the earthquake — a trend that has continued through January and isn’t expected to change in the short to medium term,” he says.

“With our vital Cook Strait link even more important following the quake, it’s very much business as usual as we work 24/7 to move freight and people seamlessly between north and south.”

Mr Menzies adds that Strait Shipping has not made any schedule changes as a result of the quake and has both freight and passenger capacity on most sailings.

Contrastingly, KiwiRail sales and commercial general manager Alan Piper is understood to have recently E-mailed customers advising that the badly damaged Main North Line has had a “material impact on freight volumes by as much as 50% on Interislander ferries”.

It has been speculated that KiwiRail is contemplating parking up the Kaitaki for a period in Nelson.